Honda CB500 The Story
1973 Honda CB350F sidepanel
faded and rusted It's hard to imagine now but there was a time when the CB500 seemed, to my thirteen year old eyes at least, like a big bike. Those four header pipes  dominating the engine like four chrome plated steel rods traping it in the frame. I didn't know it but the 500 was destined to be considered the best of Honda's first generation fours because it struck the right balance between weight, power and bulk. And backed it up with Honda's unwavering reliability and build quality. If you couldn't or wouldn't go for the 750 the 500 was a good alternative.

Of all the first generation Honda multis it was visually the most interesting, perhaps because Honda felt secure enough after the success of the 750 to be a bit more adventurous when it came to the looks of its smaller brother. To my mind it was an improvement, the 750 was definitely a product of the as-middle-of-the-road-as-possible school of motorcycle styling that seemed to rule at Honda at the time.

In comparison to the 750 it had a more interesting engine to look at with  lots of nooks and crannies and no smooth and bland casings or covers. This was particularly true of the cylinder head that sported little shield-shaped end caps as if they were covering the camshaft bearing borings a-lá Kawasaki's Z1 (they weren't, the bearing seats were bored internally). The other dominant styling elements were the tank and the mufflers. In later years the paintjob on the tank would change to match the 750's almost line for line but for the first three years of production it was quite different, consisting of a black panel on each side mimicking the tank profile and finished with dual white pinstripes. Completing the look were the quad mufflers, supposedly megaphone inspired. They didn't shock with the rest of the bike's styling but I could never make up my mind,
maybe it was the welded seams running along the top and bottom that put me off. Or the balance pipe between the "tail fin" sections, these were short tubes sealed with clamps, not altogether very sophisticated.
From a distance the exhaust system looked cool but when you got up close it looked a bit cheap.

In 1978 a mate bought a green and black '72 model that had been stored in a garage for a while. It was as good as new, at least on its left side. The previous owner had left the bike next to a window and over the years the sunlight had seriously faded the right side of the tank and the sidecover. Other deteriation was inflicted on the righthand mufflers, both of them were severly rusted, the top one appeared to be in better shape because there were only patches of surface bubbling visible and no holes but the underlying metal was almost all gone and only the chrome held the shape. There was no doubt about the condition of the lower silencer, jagged rust rimed holes could tell no lies. It wasn't long before the whole lot was dumped in favour of a locally made four-into-one. The looks suffered but the sound and performance got a good boost.
There was no grab rail so that when I was on the back and my mate gunned it staying on was tricky, and there was no way I was going to hang on to my mate! When he gave it the "hino" (fat in the local Maori language) the bike seemed to hunker down, press the back tire into the tarmac and rocket off. Definately more impression than reality as the bike was a typically slow middleweight Honda four. Still it was all good fun.

The bike eventually got pranged when my mate's brother-in-law hit, as you would expect in New Zealand, a sheep. The front-end got smacked hard enough to screw up the steering and the tank got mashed in on the right-hand side. There was blood and scraps of wool all over the show, bit of a mess. It was a pity the CB ended its days all mangled because it was a good bike and had been in really good nick, except for the fading and rusting.